Monthly Archives: July 2013

Writing a Woman’s Life, Part 2

In the first post in this series, I wrote about why I chose to begin doing research into the life of Rose Wilder Lane. In this post, I’ll continue the story.

When I first learned about Rose, back in the early 1970s, I had no idea that, years later, I would write a novel about her—I was simply curious about her. No, make that deeply curious, for as a child, I had read and loved all the Little House books, which I had been told were written by her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder. Laura was an iconic figure, in my mind. There was no other writer quite like her.

Then I read Laura’s book, The First Four Years, which shocked and surprised me, since it didn’t seem possible that this not-very-well-crafted book could have been the work of the author of eight beautifully-written and award-winning books. But I discovered from the introduction that Laura had a daughter, Rose, and that—even though her writing career had long been overshadowed by her mother’s— Rose was remembered at least by some as a “famous author” who traveled abroad and wrote a “number of fascinating books.”

This intrigued me, and I began to read and collect Rose’s writings, discovering that she was an accomplished and impressive professional writer with a long string of newspaper stories, feature pieces, travel articles, books, and magazine fiction to her credit. I began to construct a bibliography of all the writings I could find, and added to it whenever I discovered a new article or book.

Rose’s fictionalized biography of Jack London, 1917-1918

Rose’s fictionalized biography of Jack London, 1917-1918

I also began to construct a timeline of Rose’s life, beginning with her birth on the Wilders’ claim in Dakota Territory, through the family’s move to Mansfield MO, and Rose’s early career as a telegrapher for Western Union, her days as a San Francisco Bulletin feature writer, and her travels across Europe. This part of the project got a boost around 1978 when I found a privately published booklet by William T. Anderson, “Laura’s Rose.” Although the booklet lacked citations and sources, it provided a general outline of Rose’s life, some details I hadn’t yet discovered, and a few more titles to look for. There were still a lot of gaps to fill. But because I was teaching and doing other research, my “Rose project” went on the back burner.

Rose on a walking tour of the Loire Valley, 1921

Rose on a walking tour of the Loire Valley, 1921

I was still deeply interested in Rose, however. So I  visited the Wilder farm near Mansfield, where Rose grew up. And whenever I traveled through the Midwest and the Plains states, I looked for the Ingalls family’s house sites—not an easy task, in those days before the Internet. I also managed to locate some of the articles that Laura wrote for the Missouri Realist, which made me even more sure that she could not have been the author—not the sole author, anyway—of the Little House books. Her work was simply too stiff, too uneven, and too unpolished. She would have needed a lot of help to produce those eight books—and who better to help than her much-published daughter? Meanwhile, a couple of scholars wrote articles that also questioned the idea that Laura was the sole author of my favorite children’s books. All this kept me interested in Rose (and Laura, too) while I worked on other writing projects.

And then in 1992, I learned that William Holtz, at the University of Missouri, was about to do just that. His book was titled The Ghost in the Little House: A Life of Rose Wilder Lane.  I contacted Professor Holtz, requested an advance reading copy, and reviewed it—enthusiastically—for the San Antonio Express-News. I was fascinated by the depth and breadth of his research into Rose’s life, and I found myself saying an emphatic yes, yes! to his arguments that Rose played a major role in the writing of the books that were published under her mother’s name. What’s more, his very complete biography filled in the gaps (most of them, anyway) in the timeline I had constructed of Rose’s life.

But even more importantly, William Holtz had done what every good biographer does: he had laid down a research trail. The notes and bibliography at the end of his book took me to the original sources he consulted: Rose’s letters, diaries, journals, and manuscripts, held in the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library.

And that, of course, was where I had to go next, in my efforts to learn who really wrote those wonderful books—the subject of my forthcoming novel, A Wilder Rose: Rose Wilder Lane, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Their Little Houses.  I’ll be writing about that part of my adventure in Part 3 of this series, Writing a Woman’s Life.

Have you ever been fascinated by a woman’s life—an ancestor, perhaps, or a little known author, or a woman whose contributions have not been fully recognized? What excites you about this person? If you wanted to research her life, where would you start? What ‘what ifs’ make you wonder about things she did or might have done? Do you know enough about her to create a timeline of her life? What information would you need to fill in the gaps? Who would you talk to? What would you read? Where might you visit? What learning trail would you follow if you wanted to discover and write about her life?


Susan Wittig Albert is a best-selling novelist, memoirist, and author of both adult and young adult fiction and nonfiction. She lives on a 31-acre Texas Hill Country homestead with her husband and frequent coauthor, Bill Albert. She founded The Story Circle Network in 1997. Her

Read part 1 and part 3 of this series.

The Art of Living by the Lake

two metal lawn chairsText and photo by Janet Grace Riehl, copyright 2013

I lived  in Northern California’s Lake County for a decade (1997 – 2007) . Since I moved to St. Louis in 2007, I trek back  to one of my heart homes at least once a year to rejuvenate.  I  visit friends, and reacquaint myself with lake, creek, and ocean. It’s oyster season, too, and that doesn’t hurt a bit. It’s a feast of friendship and food. I relax more each day into the rolling rhythm  of living by the lake–especially in summer.

What is the art of living by the lake?  A vintage picture from the 1950s  hangs on my wall with a  group of friends practicing this art. They sit on the porch of a log cabin waiting for the last of their party to dock their boat and join them.

Three  wait.  The ladies wear sundresses.  The blond must be the hostess.  She stacks records on the record changer.

The host comes out with a tray of beers in fluted glasses.  Only the three men drink beer.  They all sit by lantern light.  The brunette sits with her back to us.  And, my, what a back it is.  At this time of day, at dusk, her backless sundress will soon be a moon dress as it slides into undress.

The man in the red shirt waves at the fourth couple just docking their boat. The woman on the dock waves back while her man ties up the motor boat.  The arriving couple walks beneath the promenade of tall oak trees on the cobblestone path and gambols up the stairs to meet their friends for an evening of relaxation.

What is the mythology represented here?  A land with no cares.  A place to rest, relax, drop all worries and enjoy the good life of scrumptious lunches, civilized afternoon teas, memorable dinners with friends. It’s the lure of paradise.

When the moon shines on the lake, nothing could be finer.  The soft glow ripples over the water. It’s a lake of  illusion as dreams of paradise float by so fast that not even the lake can slow them down.

Writing prompt? Start with an image and see where it goes.


Learn more about Janet’s work at Village Wisdom for the 21st Century ( Creating connections through the arts and across cultures.